Monthly Archives: July 2013

Defining Questions

does the young acorn

ever question whether it

will become a tree?

– The Stethoscopist

Yesterday morning, I ran some errands in preparation for the Fourth of July. I needed a beach towel to sit on while watching fireworks that night, but since I had a coupon to Kohl’s, I decided to pick up some kitchen items at the same time. Afterwards, I ran to another store to buy some granola bars, as they are an all-important nutritional group in the Food Pyramid of Busy Students.

Larissa and Acorn (2)

Having secured the necessary granola bars, I started my car and began backing out of my parking space. It can be a small adventure backing out in parking lots—it sometimes seems that I am crossing a stretch of wilderness dotted with shifting landmarks. Watching for cars and pedestrians while trying not to brush the vehicles on either side, I eased out, my head twisted over my right shoulder.

Suddenly, a car appeared in my left field of vision. It looked so close that I had to immediately press down on the brakes, jolting to a stop. And in that instant…

…the driver honked at me.

You probably thought I was going to say that we had a fender-bender. Thankfully, it wasn’t that dramatic, but the fact of the matter is that I was honked at and it didn’t feel fair. After all, I was moving slowly, so the oncoming driver should’ve had time to see me pulling out before the car reached me. He or she could’ve simply pressed their own brakes and waited just a moment, rather than honking and driving on past me. It just seemed unnecessary.

As I finished navigating the parking lot, I tried to let the incident become the proverbial water on a duck’s back. I felt a slight twinge of hurt, though, and nothing I told myself could seem to make that little prickle of emotion go away.

Then, the thoughts began.

You shouldn’t let a honking car horn get to you.

You’re too sensitive.

How can you be a medical student?

How on earth are you going to survive in the hospital if you can’t even take a honking horn?

You’re going to be an embarrassment to yourself.

I’ve heard them all before. They are the self-doubts that dog my steps at times, even though I’m officially a med student. Even though I now have a name badge and a white coat, I still face them.

I’m sharing this because I hope that it will reach someone—some aspiring pre-med or fellow medical student—who also has doubts and thinks that he or she is the only one out there who does. Perhaps you think that everyone else is perfectly confident and has it together.

I know, because I sometimes feel that way myself. But I also know that I’m not defined by my doubts. They are challenges to overcome, and although they make me feel vulnerable at times, I will be stronger for facing them.

The acorn’s roots push against the solid ground, and with time and patience, the roots break through. The earth—which at one time must have seemed an insurmountable barrier to the tender shoot—becomes an anchor for it as it matures into a majestic tree.

Perhaps you are an acorn right now, facing the earth and needing encouragement for the journey ahead.  Or perhaps you are a tree, having already overcome many challenges and able to share encouragement with others. I think we all have elements of each. Regardless of where you are in your journey, though, please know this: you’re not alone.


How Badges Are Like Buttered Toast

In my past shadowing experience, I had the privilege of observing and interacting with many residents at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, about an hour and a half from my home town in the Sierra Nevada foothills. As an eager pre-med, I was always thrilled to have the opportunity to spend part of my day with these physicians, but there was one thing that I sometimes wondered about.

It had to do with badges.

I noticed that sometimes the badges worn by these busy health care professionals would be flipped around, showing information such as emergency phone numbers instead of the wearer’s name and photograph. Now, I recognized that this wasn’t on purpose—badges can certainly flip around by accident—but as a conscientious pre-med, I often wondered why the residents weren’t more careful to promptly turn the badges back around. If I were wearing a badge…

And then, just last week, I received my first badge. It’s the size of a credit card, a white rectangle of plastic that is tangible proof of so many hopes and dreams. After waiting at the Photo ID Office in the basement of the Stanford Hospital and hoping that my picture would turn out, I received my badge. (The pressure is on when no photo retakes are allowed, the resulting picture will represent your professional identity for the next four or more years, and you didn’t realize you would be getting your picture taken that day in the first place.) My photograph (which thankfully did turn out) is a postage-stamp-sized image at the upper right corner of the badge. The Stanford School of Medicine title and logo fill the upper left, and beneath that, in bold capital letters, are the phrases “Student Affairs,” “Medical Student,” and my name.  Oh, to be called a medical student!

I proudly purchased a retractable badge holder at the med school bookstore, snapped it on, and began wearing my badge throughout all medically-related parts of my day. (Though I admit that on the first day, I even wore it while stopping by the front desk of my housing office.) And that is when I began to notice a curious thing:

Badges flip around.

It’s almost uncanny how readily this happens—a few brisk steps forward, and suddenly the badge at my hip is announcing the numbers to emergency hotlines rather than my name. I tried adjusting its position on my belt and reversed the clip to see if it was some quirk of the holder, but my badge remains as predictable as buttered toast: it always lands facedown.

Now, when I’m walking around the Stanford campus or hospital, I must regularly check whether I need to flip my badge around. Sometimes, I forget. And in all of this, I’ve come to realize just what the residents I shadowed were experiencing. In this small way, I’ve begun walking in their shoes…or at least in their badges.

My badge struggles over the past week have drawn my thoughts to the topic of empathy. I know that it is important to place myself in another’s position before I draw conclusions. By imagining how I would feel in their situation, I can respond more appropriately and be a better friend, family member, classmate, and future physician. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, however, because it takes a conscious effort to slow down and to pause long enough to place myself in another’s position. It takes time.

Time. It is the most precious resource we have to share, for love and empathy and passion are all revealed through the time that we take to give it. Time is the breath that we take before drawing conclusions and the seconds shared in a touch or a hug. It is the minutes and hours given to listening, to learning, to realizing that each moment of contact with a fellow person is an opportunity to touch a life.

I now realize that the badge-bearers I watched with eager eyes a year ago weren’t being unmindful when they wore their badges flipped around. I had imagined the day when I would wear my own badge, but I now wish that I had also imagined what it would be like for these busy residents and team members to have to monitor not just vital signs and patient comfort, but also badges.

I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out a way to keep my badge straight, so I might have to glance down at it every so often for the rest of my career. But now that I think of it, that might be a good thing.

Because every time I see those emergency hotline numbers instead of my name, I can be reminded to place myself in the next person’s shoes.